Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Send me your poor...

In many ways, I find that I wear the label "conservative" rather well, both by temperament and according to where the political and moral needs of our current time drive me. However one area in which I find myself at odds with much of the conservative movement is in immigration policy, though in this particular area I seem to be at odds with most people.

Being descended from Irish and Mexican immigrants who entered the country more than a hundred years ago, when there were no limits on immigration other than a basic health exam, I feel strongly that those trapped in socially, politically and economically backward countries should have the opportunity to come to the US and see if they can create a better life for themselves. So I have little to no sympathy with the "seal the borders and keep those damn foreigners out" approach. We were all foreigners once.

At the same time, I find myself profoundly out of sympathy with the de facto open boarders approach of many immigration advocates who, knowing that open boarders is a difficult political sell, instead demand that people who have entered the country illegally be given drivers licenses and even allowed to vote. This is a country of laws, and encouraging people enter the country illegally and then trying to get them the benefits of legal residency sends entirely the wrong message.

But here, really, is the elephant in the living room which no one really wants to deal with: In the peak days of immigration, when the phrase "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me..." meant something, we welcomed to our shore exactly that: the poor and huddled masses of the world.

Both my Irish and Mexican ancestor suffered, in different ways, the prejudice that often awaited immigrants when they reached our shores. Moreover, they suffered the grinding poverty and poor working conditions that were offered them. When immigrants arrive with nothing but their willingness to work, there are not as yet any economic resources for them. It is only with time (and a certain amount of luck) that they can create the economic resources that will lift them out of poverty.

Put very basically, work creates wealth, but the amount of wealth in the country at any given moment is the product of the current number of workers. When you bring in new workers, you bring in the capacity to create new wealth. But that takes time, in the meantime, the resources available to the new immigrant are scant.

However, for all it's self indulgence, our modern society hates to see poverty before its eyes. We don't want the immigrant slums that characterized the big cities circa 1900. We don't want to see people working the long hours for low wages that were decried even in the early 1900s as a disgusting result of capitalism run wild. (And it did run wild, employers have a human obligation not to expose their workers to unnecessary danger, nor to pay them less than they are able to.)

Instead, we hide the low wage slums that produce our affordable consumer products, importing them from China instead of making them ourselves. It is thus China that will succeed in lifting millions of low wage workers gradually out of poverty, while the US tries to stem the tide of immigration, keeping the poor out in order to keep poverty out.

I'm all for open boarders, but this country would need to understand that when you open the doors to the poor, poverty comes with them, at least initially. We simply would not have the resources to provide each immigrant family with a new condo, two cars, a game cube, cable television, a cell phone and Levis -- all the things that make life worth living in our consumerist worldview. Even if we were determined to engage in full scale wealth redistribution, we could not get enough resources to provide each immigrant (from the start) with an "American" lifestyle. Economic development takes time, and if we were to open our borders to tens of millions of immigrants from the third world, we would have to accept that (despite all efforts by those of good will to make sure they were not inordinately put at risk or taken advantage of) for a while we would have tens of millions of immigrants living in what would be very close to third world conditions. And yet, given time, opportunity and education, these immigrants, like our ancestors would pull themselves out of poverty, and add another few hundred billion to our country's GNP in the process.

However, in spite of this, those who advocate opening our boarders are almost invariably the same people who advocate raising the minimum wage, or mandating "living wage laws". Their slogan seems to be: "Send me your poor... but no poverty, please."

1 comment:

Roger Sjolund said...

Democracy says vote: open?,closed,pourous?

Follow U.N. advice: mandate all nations to be open? Yes?/No?